A superficial reading of today’s First Reading and Gospel may give us the impression that Elijah is easier on his disciple than Our Lord is with his, but the Second Reading can shed a little light on the apparent difference. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that life is a battle between the flesh and the Spirit; the Christian life presents a new way of living, living in a way that you are not enslaved to things and situations, but alive in the Spirit and focused on the spiritual goal. Even good things, if sought for the wrong reasons, can oppose a life of the Spirit.
A common denominator in today’s First Reading and Gospel is that the disciple asks to do something before following his master. The subtle difference is that, unlike Elijah, Our Lord can always read hearts and see whether that heart is speaking from the flesh or from the Spirit. Elisha is “liquidating his assets” and doing one last gesture of love for his family before departing; the hearts of disciples in today’s Gospel are only known to Our Lord, and it is in his response to them that we see a potential conflict between Spirit and flesh that he is trying to help them address.
The first disciple in today’s Gospel perhaps doesn’t understand that following Our Lord is a something lifelong: he’s not just headed to the Rabbi’s house instead of his own, he is committed to permanently follow Jesus, just as every Christian is called to do. The second wants to attend to important family business, but sometimes following Our Lord requires sacrifice and self-denial: in telling the dead to bury their dead Our Lord perhaps is telling him too that the family business he is concerned about can already be attended to by another member of his family. The last potential disciple wants to go home and say goodbye first: Our Lord sees something in that request that would put flesh over Spirit. Perhaps the disciple would go home and stay there. Following Christ is the best thing we can do for ourselves and our family, and we must never lose sight of that.
Whatever path Our Lord calls us to walk, not just priesthood or consecrated life, it is a path where we follow him. Let’s ask him today to show us the path we should take and how we should take it.